Pubdate: Sat, 15 Mar 2014
Source: News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
Copyright: 2014 The News and Observer Publishing Company


The Durham boom has been something to behold, from the American
Tobacco Campus to the ever-expanding reputation of Duke University in
the City of Medicine to the Durham Performing Arts Center, drawing big
shows and big performers and big audiences from all over. So why can't
a city with so much going for it get the police department right?

Here we go again. Now a coalition examining drug law enforcement and
punishment has offered documents it says support its contention that
there is racial profiling in the Durham Police Department's drug
enforcement unit. In the cases examined by the coalition, called
Foster Alternative Drug Enforcement or FADE, all suspects were black
or Hispanic.

An attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Ian Mance,
says the documents indicate that $300 bonuses were paid to informants
for convictions and testimony. Mance says the documents show that
informants made deals with officers that "were contingent on the
effectiveness of their cooperation in securing a conviction. If
someone active in your case had a financial interest in seeing you go
to jail, wouldn't you want to know about it?"

A defense attorney, David Hall, said a bonus based on conviction could
influence testimony, something a defendant would need to know in
making his or her case. But if the defendant doesn't know there's a
"conviction bonus" on the line, that defendant might just cop a plea
and his or her lawyer wouldn't cross-examine the witness who got the

FADE says, however, that the Durham district attorney's office didn't
know about the money paid to confidential informants. Indeed, a Durham
assistant DA said if the office knew about it, it would have provided
the information to the defendants in the discovery stage of trial.

The Durham police, not surprisingly, deny the accusations. The
department issued a statement saying it doesn't pay for convictions,
only for "cooperation through case completion." But the same statement
said department lawyers will be talking to the district attorney about
how payments are handled.

This is possibly a big problem for the Durham police. If they've used
payments and haven't told the district attorney's office about it when
they should have, how many cases could be involved?

Durham residents couldn't be blamed for demanding that their city
council call for an independent investigation of this and other issues
with the police department.

In recent years, there have been accusations of brutality, of
profiling. There was the Jesus Huerta case in which a teenager in
custody died in the back of a patrol car with his hands cuffed behind
him. Police said he was hiding a pistol he used to shoot himself. And
Chief Jose Lopez has done an extremely poor job of defending his
department when it has come under fire. He is a public official but
seems reticent to speak out. That doesn't compute.

This department needs an independent investigation -- and a tough one.
Only then can confidence, now at a low ebb, be restored.
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